Betsy DeVos spoke through waves of boos and shouted protests during her commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University on Wednesday, delivering a celebratory address with what seemed at times to be grim-faced resolve.
In the week and a half since the historically black university announced DeVos would be delivering the address, protest petitions drew thousands of signatures and calls for the school president’s resignation have cropped up — as NPR’s Anya Kamenetz laid out here.
The reaction to the speech itself — which you can watch below — was often no different.
As the lightning-rod secretary of education stepped behind the lectern, she was greeted with immediate boos from the students — a deepening roar that had begun in smatters minutes earlier when she received her honorary doctorate from school President Edison O. Jackson.
Yet it was also clear DeVos had anticipated this response, opening her speech with a call for understanding.
“One of the hallmarks of higher education and of democracy is the ability to converse with people with whom we disagree,” DeVos told the crowd, her voice raised slightly to be heard above the boos. “We can focus on differences that divide us, or we can choose to listen and learn from each other’s experiences.”